Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Interview with Phyllis Zimbler Miller, author of Mrs. Lieutenant (with giveaway)

As you can tell by my review, Phyllis Zimbler Miller's Mrs. Lieutenant: A Sharon Gold Novel is among the best books I've read in a long time, and it ranks up there with my all-time favorite books. Normally, I read only one book at a time (not counting the books I read with my daughter). When I received Mrs. Lieutenant, I only planned on reading the back cover to learn more about the book, then pick it up again after I finished the book I was currently reading. That didn't go as planned; as soon as I read the back cover, I decided I was going to just glance at the first page...and before I knew it, I was nearly halfway through the book. I just couldn't put it down! (I don't encounter books like that often, but I cherish those moments.)

As soon as I finished the book, I contacted Phyllis to let her know how much I enjoyed it, and she was kind enough to let me interview her.

How much of this book is based on your real-life experiences as a Mrs. Lieutenant?

The book is very much based on my experiences as a new Mrs. Lieutenant. My husband did indeed start Armor Officers Basic training at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, in May of 1970, and I did go with him even though the army didn’t say he could bring his wife. I took material from that time as well as material from when we were later stationed in Munich, Germany, and mashed the material together to create the novel.

Is there one character whom you most identify with?

Sharon is the character most like me, but I didn't grow up in Chicago and I was never an anti-war protester. In fact, I had my head stuck very far in the sand so as not to think about the war because my husband had told me on our third date that he was going to Vietnam.

How did you go about choosing characters from different racial and religious backgrounds? Are the women based on people you know/knew?

One of the reasons I wrote the book is because of these different racial and religious backgrounds. I was indeed the chair of the entertainment committee for the graduation luncheon for the wives of my husband’s AOB class.

The committee consisted of me (a Jew from Elgin, Illinois), a Southern Baptist, a black from the South, and two Puerto Ricans, one of whom didn’t speak English. (I dropped the second Puerto Rican from the story, although she is there in a reference to not knowing about birth control.)

This unlikely group of women having to get along together is what I wanted to preserve by writing the novel. But the book’s actual characters are made up of pieces of various people I knew.

Is the "etiquette" booklet featured in Mrs. Lieutenant, also called Mrs. Lieutenant, relevant to officers' wives today?

I’m sure there are still rules that officers’ wives have to follow today. But the rules are probably not as strict because society’s standards for women today are not as strict.

If you watch the Lifetime Television series ARMY WIVES, you’ll know that Catherine Bell’s officer wife character Denise is currently dealing with her husband, who is now in Iraq, worrying
that her behavior is not appropriate for an officer’s wife of his rank.

(I blog about the season 2 episodes of ARMY WIVES each week at, and I'm co-sponsoring a military spouse contest for which Lifetime is supplying prizes. The deadline is July 31 and the rules are at

Were there women back in the '70s who outwardly rebelled against what was expected of them as officers' wives?

I would think that there had to be women in the ‘70s (and now) who rebelled against what was expected of them as officers’ wives. But the thing to keep in mind is that in 1970 we all knew that our actions could hurt our husbands – we feared they could be reprimanded for our actions. And given a Vietnam tour hanging over their heads, we did not want to do anything to put them more at risk.

When we were stationed in Munich, I eventually had a full-time job as did another officer’s wife, but I do think we were the rarity. At that time it was not very appropriate for a wife of an officer to work. But we needed money to travel in Europe, and where we were stationed in Munich was different than a normal army post in the U.S. or even in Europe. So we could somewhat get around the expectations.

Is there any one thing you'd like civilians to take away from the book, something that we should understand about military families?

It’s important for civilians to understand how much control the military has over the lives of its men and women and their families. I’ve been rereading the letters I sent home from Munich (my mother saved them all) and a repeated theme is the frustration at not being the captain of your own life.

And then when my husband got out of the army and we returned to the U.S., we couldn’t really talk about our experiences because no one our age that we knew had been in the military or a spouse of a military person. So I think it’s important for people today who meet military personnel and their families to encourage them to talk about their lives. This has nothing to do with how one feels about the war – this is simply stretching out a hand to befriend others and to try to understand their lives.

And it is very important not to say negative things about the war to someone on active duty because you would be putting that person in an embarrassing position. The person on active duty should not be put in the position of having to defend current military policies to a civilian.

Could you describe the process you when through writing Mrs. Lieutenant?

I worked on the book for almost 20 years from the time two female movie producers optioned the book and then lost interest through the years. I had to learn to write as a novelist rather than a journalist. And as the years passed, I became even more determined to preserve this slice of women’s social history because all the Vietnam novels and movies that I know give the men’s perspective but not the perspective of their wives.

In writing the novel, I used original documents (some can be seen on my website at and a timeline constructed from an actual calendar of those months in 1970 in order to create as compelling a background as possible for the story. That’s why each chapter starts with a brief news item along with a quote from the booklet Mrs. Lieutenant.

On your blog, I read that you are working on a sequel. Could you tell us a little about it?

I'm midway through writing the first draft of the sequel--MRS. LIEUTENANT IN EUROPE--about Sharon and Robert Gold's experiences as part of an occupation army in Germany 25 years after the end of WWII and during the height of the Cold War.

I also plan a third book, something along the lines of MS. LIEUTENANT IN CIVILIAN LIFE, about Sharon and Robert's return to civilian life in the U.S. and the adjustments they have to make a second time. Plus the women's movement is sweeping the country, and Sharon becomes a feminist (hence the change from Mrs. to Ms.).

Phyllis was kind enough to share a picture of herself and her husband, which is found in the book as well:

Phyllis Zimbler and Mitchell Miller at the Coronation Ball at Michigan State University on Saturday, November 18, 1967, sponsored by the Cadet Officers Club and the Arnold Air Society.

Thanks, Phyllis, for taking time to answer my questions!

Phyllis also is allowing me to offer a copy of Mrs. Lieutenant to one of my readers!! To enter the drawing, please leave a comment in this post by August 1, and be sure to include your email address. If you want to be entered twice, please mention my review and interview on your blog, as well as the Mrs. Lieutenant website, and let me know you've done so in the comments!


Serena said...

OOO...First to enter the contest! LOL I can't wait to see who wins this one! I will post this contest on my blog later today or tomorrow...

Unknown said...

Serena --
Thanks so much. And friend me on Facebook.

pamwax said...

Anna great job with the interview. You are a natural. You have peaked my interest in how it was for militay wives during Vietnam. Having lived the war as a civilian daily it will be interesting to read what promises to be an insightful book from the wives perspective.

Anna said...

Thanks for the kind words, Pam. I just love to write and read, so what's better than writing about books that I've read?? (Okay, working on my novel is fun, too!) :D

Dawn said...

Hi Anna! I'm so curious about this book now. It sounds very interesting! I'll mention the contest on my blog too. :)

Seradee said...

Yikes! Is there where I'm supposed to leave my comment for the contest? Ooops! I left it one blog down.... See what I mean about you being savvy and my lack there of? Eeek! That being said, please enter me in your wonderful book contest!

Your befuddled friend,

NatRed2 said...

Hi Anna- what a wonderful piece. I am completely interested and can't wait to read this book!!
I was in the Army (during peace time) so this will give me a completely different perspective of military life.
Thanks Dawn for giving me a push this direction.

I will give your contest a shout on my blog as well.

windycindy said...

Hello, My husband's father is a retired Lt.Colonel from the Air Force! My dad is a WWII survivor who just turned 90 years young. I have learned a lot from my husband and mother-in-law about military life. The entertaining the people above my father-in-law was very pertinent! I would love to read this book. Please enter my name in your drawing. Thanks very much.....Cindi

Margay Leah Justice said...

Wonderful interview, ladies! This just heightens my interest in this book.

Unknown said...

Enter me please. Great interview!

Unknown said...

Margay --
I'd like to get in touch with you. Use the contact info on my website at

TinaW said...

This looks like a great book! tinawittmer(at)yahoo(dot)com

Anonymous said...

Hello! Please enter me in your contest. You should know my email by now. LOL Erika

Anonymous said...

I most definitely want to be entered into this contest. Please, please, please pick me!

phlame said...

I read your review and can hardly wait to read the book. I was a Mrs Lieutenant many, many years ago and it brought back old memories.

Suey said...

I just remembered, I need to enter your contest! :)

Unknown said...

Anna, great interview. The book sounds excellent. Please enter me in the contest. (This is Sarah from work, by the way). :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the giveaway. Sounds like a fascinating book. I blogged about it HERE.

Wendi said...

~ Wendi

Your interview has been added to

About the Author - An Author Interview Index